Skip to main content

Full text of "The Caper-Berry (Eccles. xii. 5)"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 


The Caper-Berry {Eccles. xii. 5). 


IN this poetical description of old age, instead of the familiar words 
"and desire shall fail," the Revised Version has, "and the caper- 
berry shall fail." That is, as one of the Revisers has explained it, 1 the 
caper-berry shall fail " to excite appetite or desire " ; or, as another 
of the Revisers has expressed it, 2 " the caper-berry (a restorative and 
stimulating article of food) shall lose its power to rouse and revive." 

The Hebrew word 3 which in the Authorized Version is rendered 
" desire " was first rendered " caper " in the Septuagint ; 4 and thence 
the rendering found its way into later versions. But the interpreta- 
tion was different from the one adopted in the Revised Version. 
This particular interpretation seems to have been first suggested in 
the Polyglot Lexicon of Schindler 5 (a.d. 1612). It has been ap- 
proved and adopted in the Hebrew lexicons of Schindler, 5 Simonis, 6 
Gesenius/ and Ftirst, 8 in the commentaries or other writings of 
Poole, 9 Ursinus, 10 Van der Palm, 11 Lady Callcott, 12 Hitzig, 13 Stuart, 14 

1 Rev. George E. Day, D.D., of Yale Divinity School. Letter to the New 
Haven Daily Palladium, dated July 2, 1885. 

2 Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, D.D., of New York City. "A Companion to the 
Revised Old Testament," p. 130. 

8 nji'JS. * Hal Sio<rKeSa<r9J7 rj Kdmrapis. 

6 Valentin Schindler, prof. Wittenberg and Helmstedt. Lex. Pentaglot., 1612. 

6 Johann Simonis, prof. Halle. Lex. Man. Heb. et Chal., 1757. 

7 F. H. Wilhelm Gesenius, prof. Halle. Heb. und Chal. Handworterbuch, 
1812. Eng. editions, Dr. Edward Robinson, Boston, 1844; Dr. Samuel Prideaux 
Tregelles, London, 1875. Thesaurus Phil. Crit. Ling, et Chal., Leipzig, 1829-1858. 

8 Julius Furst, prof. Leipzig. Heb. und Chal. Handworterbuch, 1857-1861. 
Eng. ed., Dr. Samuel Davidson, Leipzig, 1 867. Concordantiae Libr. Vet. Test., 1 840. 

9 Rev. Matthew Poole, Synop. Crit., etc., London, 1 669-1 676. 

10 Johann HSinrich Ursinus, Arboretum Biblicum, 1687. 

11 Van der Palm, Eccles. phil. et crit. illustratus, Leyden, 1784. 

12 Lady Maria Callcott, Scripture Herbal, London, 1842. 

13 Dr. Ferdinand Hitzig, prof. Zurich and Heidelberg. Erklar. (Kurtzgef. 
Exeg. Handb.), Leipzig, 1847. 

11 Dr. Moses Stuart, prof. Andover Theol. Sem. Eccles., New York, 1851; 
Andover, 1864. 


De Wette, 15 Ginsburg, 16 Gurlitt, 17 Noyes, 18 Wordsworth, 19 Zockler, 20 
Bullock, 21 Fischer, 22 Delitzsch, 23 Wright, 24 Kohler, 25 Renan, 26 and Bost, 27 
and in the Revised English and Revised German versions. The later 
scholars, however, seem to have accepted the interpretation wholly 
on the authority of Gesenius and Fiirst. Not one of them cites any 
other authority than either these lexicographers or the authors quoted 
by them, or appears to have made any independent investigation of 
the subject. 

There are three objections to this interpretation. 

(i) There is no evidence that the products of the caper-bush 
have, or were ever supposed to have, any special tendency to excite 
appetite or lust. 

There is no doubt that capers, like olives, radishes, cucumbers, and 
other vegetable products used for relishes or salads, have, possibly in 
themselves, and certainly when pickled in vinegar or brine, some 
slight irritant and tonic properties ; but it is claimed by these scholars 
that capers have a peculiar and very powerful stimulative quality, 
strongly provocative of all the physical appetites, and that for this 
reason the ancients used to partake of them, and offer them to their 
guests before and during meals. 23 Indeed, the whole appropriateness 

16 Dr. Wilhelm M. L. De Wette, prof. JHeidelberg. Die Heilige Schrift. 
Uebersetz., Heidelberg, 1859. 

18 Dr. C. D. Ginsburg. Coheleth, 1861. 

17 Dr. J. F. K. Gurlitt, Stud, und Krit., Koheleth, 1865. 

18 Dr. George R. Noyes, prof. Harvard Coll. Job, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles, 
Boston, 1867. 

19 Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, Archdeacon of Westminster, afterward Bishop 
of St. Andrews. Eccles., London, 1868. 

20 Dr. Otto Zockler, prof. Greifswald. Eccles., in Lange's Commentary, New 
York, 1 87 1. 

21 Rev. W. T. Bullock, Sec. S. P. G. Eccles., in Speaker's Commentary, Lon- 
don, 1873. 

22 Dr. Bernard Fischer, Editor Buxtorfii Lex. Chal., Talm. et Rabb., Leipzig, 

23 Dr. Franz Delitzsch, prof. Leipzig. Bib. Com., Eccles., 1877. 

24 Dr. W. A. Wright. Cohel., 1883. 

26 Dr. August Kohler, prof. Giessen. Kohel. 

26 Joseph Ernest Renan, Membre de l'Institute. Cohel. 

27 Jean Augustin Bost, a Swiss writer. Dictionnaire de la Bible. 

28 "The metaphor here made use of is derived from an ancient practice, not 
quite obsolete in some countries within the memory of man, namely, that of pre- 
senting to the guests at a feast, some time before approaching the table, condi- 
ments of various kinds for the purpose of exciting appetite. Of these condiments 


of the reference to the caper-berry in the passage under considera- 
tion, with the meaning supposed, depends upon the fact of the 
caper's having peculiar and extraordinary stimulating properties. 
Gesenius, 29 following Ursinus, 30 speaks of the caper as powerfully 
exciting appetite for food and venery; and Fiirst 81 declares that 
" the berry of the caper-tree, with its pepper-like seeds, provokes to 
appetite and lust." And so Zockler 82 explains : " And desire shall 
fail, that is, when neither the appetite nor sexual desire can be 
excited by so strong a stimulant as the caper-berry." 

Now there is no evidence that capers have, or were anciently sup- 
posed to have, any remarkably stimulating properties. It is certain 
that they are not so regarded at the present time. They are in com- 
mon use in all civilized countries, both as a condiment for the table and 
especially as a seasoning for boiled meats and fish, without any suspicion 
that they are powerfully provocative of appetite and lust. The United 
States Dispensatory, 33 the encyclopaedias, the botanical authorities, 
and the reports of travellers, all speak of the medical properties of 
capers, particularly of the bark of the root of the caper-bush, as 
being slightly stimulant, aperient, diuretic, antiscorbutic, and tonic, 
but say nothing about any special tendency to provoke appetite. The 
" Grand Dictionnaire " of Pierre Larousse says, 34 indeed, that capers 
"excite the appetite," but immediately qualifies this statement by 
adding, that " in regard to this it is necessary to take into account 
the action of the vinegar in which they are steeped." Gerard, in his 
"Herball" (a.d. 1597), says 85 that capers "stirre up an appetite to 
meat," but he is not regarded as good authority for anything which is 
not confirmed from other sources. Renan says 86 that "in the East 
certain kinds of capers are used for aphrodisiacs " ; but he gives no 

a very favorite one in the East was the flower-buds of capers, preserved either in 
salt and water or in vinegar." Lady Callcott, Scripture Herbal, art. Caper. 

29 " Capparis, quae et appetitum provocare et Veneris concupiscentiam incitare 
dicitur." — Thesaurus, ad verb. njVDN. 

80 " Estur capparis condimenti loco, quod fortiter suscitet appetentiam cibi, 
instiget quoque ad Venerem." Arboretum Biblicum, ad verb. Caper. 

31 Heb. and Chal. Lexicon, translated by Dr. Samuel Davidson, ad verb. 

82 Com. on Eccles., in Lange's Com., ad loc. 

88 Twelfth edition, Philadelphia, 1865, art Capparis spinosa, p. 1485. 

84 " Elles excitent I'appetit, mais il faut tenir compte a cet egard de Taction du 
vinaigre dont elles sont impregnees." art. CSpre. 

86 art. Caper. 

86 " Certaines especes de cypres passent en Orient pour des aphrodisiaques." 
Eccles., note ad loc. 


authority for the statement. In La Maout and Decaisne's " Orders 
of Nature," it is stated 37 that "Capparis sodada is a native of tropical 
Africa," and that "the negresses eat its acidulous and stimulating 
fruit, which they believe will make them prolific." This, however, is 
a different kind of statement, and it is made with reference to a 
species which is found only in Central Africa. And the statement 
itself is questionable ; for Dr. Barth tells us w that the fruit of Cappa- 
ris sodada, though too bitter to be eaten freely from the bushes, 
forms, when dried, no inconsiderable part of the food of the inhabi- 
tants of Central Africa. Captain Speke w enumerates thirteen differ- 
ent species of capers found by him in Central Africa, and says of 
several of them that the leaves are used by the natives as spinach, 
but says nothing of any tendency in any of them to provoke appetite. 
Nor is any such quality attributed to Capparis spinosa, the only 
species found in the Mediterranean regions by Forskal, 40 who trav- 
elled in those regions for the express purpose of studying their flora, 
and has noted with minute accuracy the caper and its uses and 

There remain the authorities cited and relied upon by Gesenius 41 
and Fiirst. 42 Pliny, 48 in the passage cited by Gesenius, descants upon 
the various medical effects of capers, especially their effect upon the 
spleen, but says not one word about any influence which they exert 
upon the appetites. Winer 44 frankly admits that though it would be 
convenient, he can find no such reference in Pliny's words, and there- 
fore abandons the whole interpretation. The statement quoted by 
Gesenius 41 from Plutarch 45 seems more favorable to the interpretation : 
" they who have lost their appetite, on tasting a caper immediately 
find their appetite restored." But the quotation is disingenuously 

87 Mrs. Hooker's translation, art. Caper. 

88 Travels in Central Africa, v. 146. 

89 Journal of the Discovery of the Sources of the Nile, Append. G. 

40 Florula, p. 99. 

41 Heb. Lex. and Thesaurus, ad verb. flJl'SK. 

42 Heb. Lex. and Concordance, ad verb. 
48 Nat. Hist. xiii. 23; xx. 15. 

44 " Passender ware dann freilich das Bild, wenn man an die fur Wollust reizende 
Kraft der Kapper (Kapperbeere?) denken diirfte, wie Gesenius, Thesaur. i. p. 
1 2 sq. ; will ; aber bei Pliny xiii. 23 kann ich davon nichts finden." Realworter- 
buch, art. Kapper, and note. 

45 "^HSe de iroWol tuv hntotr'trfav 4\aiaP a\p.<ida \ap&<ipoPT6s, % Kdirirapiv yev<r<£~ 
lievoi, raxevs hviXafiov /col irape<TTii<xavTo TJ)c i>pf£tv . . . oStids al tovt&v icpaK/iuj' 
fipa/ndTa/y ebaroptat," k.t.A. Sympos. Lib. vi., Qu. 2. 


garbled. Turning to the passage, we find that it reads thus : " they 
who have lost their appetite, on tasting a caper, or a salt olive, imme- 
diately find their appetite restored " : and it then proceeds to speak 
of this as the effect of these "salt foods." It appears, then, that the 
author attributes no more appetizing influence to capers than to 
olives, and that he finds the appetizing influence of both in the salt 
in which they are pickled. Bellonius, 46 in giving his observations 
made during his travels in the East, says 47 that he found in Arabia 
caper-bushes so large that he was obliged to climb them to get the 
berries, which were as large as hens' eggs, and contained pepper-like 
seeds. It is a little remarkable that no other traveller seems to have 
found these enormous capers : but, even allowing that this extrava- 
gant story is true, it was the caper of Arabia which Bellonius saw, of 
which Pliny is warns his readers not to eat, and Galen 49 says that it is 
much more acrid and fiery than the ordinary caper, and Dioscorides 50 
says that " it produces pustules in the mouth, and eats away the gums 
down to the bone," and is " unfit for food." The only remaining 
authority is Avicenna, 51 who is cited by Schindler 52 as asserting that 
capers provoke lust. No reference, however, is given : and the state- 
ment is of little importance : for Avicenna, an Arabian physician of 
the tenth century, wrote of the Arabian capers, which have just been 
described, while he himself resided in Bokhara, in Central Asia. 
It is farther urged that the Hebrew word M rendered " capers," and 

46 Cited by Gesenius, Thesaurus, ad verb.; Fiirst, Heb. Lex., ad verb.; Ursinus, 
Arboret. Biblic, ad verb., etc. 

47 " Per istos colles oberrantes, cappares invenimus pumilaruum ficuum altitudi- 
nem sequantes, ut nobis conscendendse fuerint ad earum fructus colligendos, galli- 
nacei ovi magnitudine, et semina intus continentes, piperis instar calidae, ipsas 
cappares jugulandibus magnitudine non cedunt." Lib. ii. Obs. 6o. 

48 " Cavenda ejus genera peregrina." Nat. Hist. xiii. 44. " Non utendum 
transmarino : innocentius Italicum est. . . Stomacho innutile esse inter auctores 
convenit." lb. xx. 59. 

49 4(*jj g* iv tois Oepfiols iriivv x°>p' l0ts yewfievy K&mrapis, &<rirep Se ri iv 'A/>a#{a, 
Tro\b ttjs nap' TffiTv ian fyn/toTepa, 5<tt€ KaL ttjs icavtrTiKTJs eirixA.eoi' /teT6%ei Svvd- 
fieces." Lib. vii. 

50 " Quae autem e rubro mari et Africa defertur acerrima, siquidem in ore pustu- 
las excitat et gingivas osse tenus exest. Quapropter est cibus inepta." Quoted 
and translated by Stapel in his notes on Theophrastus, Hist. Plant., art. Cap. 

61 Abri Ali el Hosein Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina, commonly called Ibn Sina, or, by 
corruption, Avicenna. 980-1037. Bokhara. 

62 " Bacca capparis quae cum cibi appetitum irritant, turn etiam juxta Avicen- 
nam instigant venerem." Lex. Polygl., ad verb. 


which is often applied to them in the Talmud, is derived from a 
verb 54 meaning to desire, and points to the tendency of capers to 
provoke desire. But the word is used in the Talmud not only for 
caper-berries, but also for all other small tree-fruits, as is clearly 
shown by Buxtorf, 55 and admitted even by Gesenius : m so that if the 
derivation of the word proves that capers have a tendency powerfully 
to excite the appetites, it proves the same thing respecting olives, 
cornels, laurels, myrtles, and all other such fruits, which is absurd. 

The notion, therefore, that capers powerfully stimulate the appetites, 
and were used for that purpose by the ancients, is apparently absolutely 
without foundation. The truth seems to be, that capers were regarded 
less as a relish than as an article of food. Cibus and fipS>im rather 
than condimentum and oi//ov are the words commonly employed in 
the classics in speaking of them. And as an article of food, they 
were used chiefly by the poorer classes (even as the fruit of Capparis 
sodada is eaten by the miserable inhabitants of Central Africa), and 
were commonly regarded as a coarse, innutritious, and unwholesome 
diet. Stapel 57 and Lobelius 58 descant, in almost the same words, 
upon the illustration which capers furnish of the disposition of men 
to indulge their fancy to the detriment of their health. Pliny 58 repre- 
sents authors as agreed that all capers are injurious to the stomach, 
and particularly cautions his readers against those which are imported. 
Dodonseus 59 and Avicenna 60 both assert that capers afford very little 
nutriment when fresh, and still less when pickled. Columella 61 ranks 
capers with "sombre elecampanes and menacing ferulas." And the 

m tok. 

55 "Bacca minuti arborum fructus, ut lauri, olivse, corni, myrti et similium." 
Lex. Chal. Talm. et Rabbin., ad verb. 

66 "The Rabbies use the plural as denoting not only capers, but also the 
small fruits of trees, as myrtles, olives, etc." Heb. and Chal. Lex. (Tregelles), ad 

67 " Sic deliciae homines fallunt, sanitatis detrimento. Sapor qui in illis perci- 
pitur a muria vel aceto ascititius est. Utriusque fructus, seu viridis seu maturus 
gustanti przebet saporem satis acrem et ingratum." Notes on Theophrastus, Hist, 
Plant., art. Cap., by Ivannes Bodseus, a Stapel, Amsterdam, 1644. 

68 "Palati studium fallit ingenium, valetudinis dispendio; nam qui sapor illis 
percipitur, ascitititius est a muria, vel ab aceto; alioqui utraque acerrima et teter- 
rimi gustus est, sive viridis sive matura." Stirp. Advers., p. 282. 

69 " Si recentes edantur, exiguum admodum alimenti conferunt; sale vero 
macerati multo minus." Hist. Stirp., p. 734. 

60 ■■ Fructus exiguum suppetit alimentum, prsecipue sale conditus." Cited and 
translated by Celsius, Hierobot, art. Cap. 

61 " Capparis, et tristes inulae, ferulasque minaces." Lib. x., p. 346. 


poet Martial 62 sings: "Neither the mullet nor the thrush delights 
thee : but thou devourest capers, and onions swimming in putrid 
fish-sauce, and the flesh of a fore-quarter of pork which is already 
beginning to be tainted." " Caper-fashion " w even became a prover- 
bial expression among the Greeks : " Thou livest caper-fashion, if 
thou canst eat anthias" (a kind of sea-fish). 64 It is said that the 
allusion is to the poverty of caper-pickers : but the quotation seems 
to point, rather, to the poverty of caper- eaters. 

It is particularly insisted upon by Gesenius * and Ftirst, 66 and those 
who follow them, that it is the berry of the caper-bush, " which with 
its pepper-like seeds provokes to appetite and lust," which is spoken 
of in this passage in Ecclesiastes. But 

(2) There is no evidence that the berry of the caper-bush, "with 
its pepper-like seeds," is, or ever was, eaten. 

There is no doubt that the fruits of several of the many species of 
the caper are eaten : m but we are now concerned with the capers of 
the Orient, where Capparis spinosa is the chief, if not the only, kind 
known. 68 

It is well known, or rather it is a fact astonishingly little known, 
that the capers of commerce are the unexpanded flower-buds of the 
caper-bush. They are of several different qualities, according to their 
size, the small round buds at their first appearance being the most 
valued, and the full-grown buds, just ready to burst into flower, being 
the least esteemed. The flower-buds, and those of the smaller sizes, 
are the only capers imported into this country. Recknagel and 
Company, who are among the largest importers of such goods in 
New York City, write : " " We have never heard of any imported 
except the usual kind imported and used for the table. To make 
sure, we have seen the leading importers of Spanish capers, and the 

62 " Nee mullus, nee te delectat, Baetice, turdus, etc. 
Capparin, et putri cepas alece natantes, 
Et pulpem dubio de petasone voras." Epig. iii., 76 

68 irpbs KawdpiOV. 

M irphs Kamrdpwv £ris, Svvdfievs Tphs kv9lav. Com. Anon. 389- 

65 " Neque tamen, qua nos vesci solemus, floris gemma, sed ipsa bacca fruti- 
cisque fructus intelligendus est." Thesaurus, ad verb. 

66 « The berry of the caper-tree, with its pepper-like seeds." Lex. Heb. and 
Chal. (Davidson), ad verb. 

67 La Maout and Decaisne, "Orders of Nature " (Hooker), art. Cap. 

68 "The only European species." Letter from Prof. Asa Gray, of Harvard 
College, July 22, 1885. 

« 9 Letter of July 30, 1885. 


principal broker in that line, and they agree with the above state- 
ment." M. Alexis Godillot, Jr., of the firm of Thurber, Whyland & 
Co., of New York City, writes : ™ " I handle a large quantity of capers 
in my Bordeaux factory, but they are not grown around that locality. 
I have to draw my supplies from the Departement du Var, three to 
four hundred miles south of Bordeaux, where they are grown. The 
caper comes on a hardy plant called Cdprier, which grows in a 
creeping way, and the caper of the market is the flower-bud of the 
caper-plant. We pack four kinds of capers, all of which grow on the 
same plant. They are only distinguished by their sizes. The smaller 
the bud the more difficult it is to pick, the less quantity it makes, and 
therefore the higher priced. The largest caper is the last stage of 
the bud before it opens to bloom : then the caper is gone." Louit 
Freres & Cie., of Bordeaux, France, after giving a similar account of 
their process of preparation, add : n " Scarcely any use is made of the 
berry, because the little seed which it contains is disagreeable to eat." 
Sig. Carlo Malenchini, of Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, writes: 72 "The 
fruit is prepared in larger quantities than the flower," but adds: "As 
I understand it, the caper-plant always produces first the fruit, and 
afterwards the flower." Evidently the writer has fallen into the 
common mistake of supposing that the small round buds are the fruit 
of the plant : for, of course, the idea of the fruit's preceding the bud 
is absurd. Mr. Philip Carroll, the American consul at Palermo, 
Sicily, makes the same mistake : 7B " The berries of the caper-bush 
are to a limited extent preserved in vinegar or salt, and used as a 
condiment, in Italy. The difference between the berry and the bud 
seems to be simply that of period, as it is understood if the former 
(the berry) is not taken early from the bush, it develops into a bud, 
and thence into a flower. The bud is not used." That is, if the 
small round bud, which Mr. Carroll calls the berry, is not picked 
early, it developes into a large bud, just ready to burst into blossom : 
and this large bud is not used. Mr. Edward Camphausen, the 
American consul at Naples, seems also to have fallen into the same 

70 Letter of Aug. 17, 1885. 

71 " On ne fait guere usage de cette baie parceque la petite graine qu'elle 
renferme est desagreable a manger." Letter of Dec. 12, 1885. 

72 " Da quanto sento, tanto il frutto come il fiore si sogliono preparare sotto 
aceto per uso di tavole, ma il frutto in maggiore quantita del fiore. Sempre per 
quello sento dire, la pianta del cappero produce prima il frutto, e dopo il fiore." 
Letter of June 14, 1886. 

78 Letter of Feb. 16, 1886. 


error: 74 "In Naples a great many capers are used. The large 
berries are used, but the smaller ones are preferred. There is a large 
quantity exported here for Northern Italy, and also for France. The 
flower-buds are not preserved and used at Naples." The similarity 
of this language to that of Mr. Carroll in the letter just before quoted 
seems to show that Mr. Camphausen means the same thing, namely, 
that of the round buds when they first appear, which he calls berries, 
the larger are used, but the smaller are preferred, but the buds at a 
later stage, when just ready to open, are not used at all. The mis- 
take of supposing the small round bud to be a berry is a very ancient 
one. Buxtorf (a.d. 1639) says: 75 "The caper produces among its 
leaves a berry, which, expanding, emits a flower." And even Dios- 
corides, 76 a botanical and medical writer of the first or second cen- 
tury, says : " The caper has a fruit like that of the olive, which, 
expanding, sends forth a white flower." Stapel 77 particularly notes 
the absurdity of the idea of the fruit's preceding the flower, and points 
out that Dioscorides means the bud, and adds, that ancient writers 
often speak of the bark of the papyrus as well as of that of the caper- 
bush, as " fruit." This ancient and common use of the words "fruit" 
and " berry " to denote the flower-bud of the caper, has doubtless 
done much to confirm the erroneous idea that the true berry of the 
caper-bush is eaten. 

But there is reason to believe that the real berry is eaten, to a 
limited extent, in certain limited localities. Mr. Wallace S. Jones, 
the American consul at Messina, Sicily, writes : 78 " The caper-berry 
is here preserved and used as a condiment. I send you samples of 
the Lipari caper-berries (known as capperi in all Sicilian grocery 
stores), and caper-buds {capperini, or puntini). The berries are 
preserved in brine, and are used in the cooking of stock-fish, cauli- 
flower, etc. The buds are preserved in vinegar, and are used as a 
relish." On their arrival, the samples were carefully examined, and 
put in alcohol for preservation. The " buds " proved to be the ordi- 

74 Letter of Jan. 30, 1886. 

76 " Capparis fiucttis inter folia producit baccam, quae fathiscens emittit florem, 
unde emanat glans semine acinoso plena." Lex. Chal., Talm. et Rabbin., ad 
verb. D^liJp. 

76 " Kapirbv (?X € °^ ov £Was, is &voixOels KevKbv irpoUru &v6os." Dias. ii. 204. 

77 " Ait enim quando dehiscens panditur florem promere. Ergo ante florem 
fructus : quod absurdum est. Fructum ergo vocat quod vulgo appetitus gubeque 
gratia comedimus." Notes on Theoph. Hist. Plant., art. Cap. 

78 Letter of Feb. 18, 1886. 


nary capers of commerce, or small flower-buds in the earliest stages 
of development. The " berries " were simply the buds at a later 
stage of growth, just ready to open. With a needle the petals and 
stamens could be easily unfolded, and the perfect flower produced. 
Mingled with these large buds, however, in the proportion of about 
half a dozen to half a pint, were a few genuine berries, in the first 
stages of their growth. It appears, therefore, that to some slight 
extent in Southern Sicily, and here only, the young, green berries are 
used. This accounts for the statements in the encyclopaedias and 
some other authorities, that in Southern Italy the fruit as well as the 
buds of the caper-bush is preserved and eaten. Loudon expressly 
states 79 that it is the unripe fruit which is eaten. The same practice 
exists, perhaps, in some localities in Southern France, although un- 
known to the large manufacturers. But there the berries are not 
called " capers," but " cornichons de capres," that is, gherkins, and 
seem to be the product of a different plant. 80 This young, green, 
half-grown berry, in which the seeds are hardly distinguishable, is, 
however, a very different thing from the ripe berry " with its pepper- 
like seeds," which some scholars erroneously suppose to have been 
eaten : and even the unripe berry is used only in very limited locali- 
ties, and to a very limited extent : and it appears from the letter last 
quoted that it is not used at all as a relish for the table, but only as a 
seasoning for cooking. 

There is no mention whatever of the use of the berries in ancient 
times. Gerard, in his "Herball " (1597), says : 81 "The knops of the 
flowers, before they open, are the capers or sauce that we eat." 
Stapel 82 tells us that in his day (1644) only the small buds were 
imported into Holland. Bellonius 83 speaks of tasting the Arabian 
caper-berries ; but his language indicates that he could only taste. 
He says that the natives put the berries into new wine, to retard the 
process of fermentation, but he says nothing about their eating them. 
Even he restricts the term " capers " to the buds ; for he says that 
the berries of the Arabian caper-bush were as large as hens' eggs, 
and "the capers themselves " not smaller than walnuts. 

But there is positive evidence that the berries of the caper-bush 
were not eaten in ancient times. Buxtorf defines M Q >l *lS!^ as " the 

79 Arboretum Brit., vol. i., p. 314, London, 1838. John C. Loudon. 

80 Grand Dictionnaire Universel, Pierre Larousse, art. C&pre. 

81 Herbal, art. Caper. 82 Notes on Theophrastus, Hist. Plant, art. Caper. 

83 Lib. ii., Obs. 60. Quoted above in Note 47. 

84 Lex Chal., Talm. et Rabbin., art. D'lflp. 


caper, properly the rind or bark of the fruit of the caper." He then 
cites two passages * from the Talmud, in which persons are repre- 
sented as eating the thick, fleshy rind, or hull, of the caper-berry, but 
throwing the berry itself away. There is, then, no evidence that the 
real berry of the caper-bush, "with its hot, pepper-like seeds," was 
ever eaten, any more than there is that it would produce appetite 
and lust if it were. 

Moved by these considerations, many, including many of the most 
ancient versions and some of the greatest of modern scholars, while 
retaining the rendering " caper-berry," recognize the allusion as having 
something else in view than stimulating qualities of the caper. Most 
of them prefer the rendering, " and the caper-berry shall burst," or 
" be dispersed," that is, the old man shall go all to pieces, like an 
over-ripe caper-berry ; or, the spirit shall break from its fleshly encase- 
ment, like the seeds of an over-ripe caper-berry from their shell. This 
is the interpretation approved and adopted by the ancient Septuagint, 86 
Vulgate, 87 Syriac, 88 and Arabic w versions, and by the modern scholars 
Vaihinger, 89 Ewald, 90 Taylor, 91 Winer, 92 Rosenmiiller, 93 Heiligstedt, 94 
Umbreit, 95 Elster, 915 and Celsius. 97 Royle 98 supposes the comparison 
to be between the droop of the ripe caper-berry on its stalk, and the 

85 " Abjicit baccas, et comedit cortices." "Invenit dominum filium Raf. Assei, 
abjicentem baccas, et comedentem cortices." " Berach, 36, a." lb. 

86 " Kal 5ta<rKe5a(T0TJ tj ndirirapis." 

87 " Et dissipabitur capparis." 

88 Gesen., Thesaur., ad verb. ilJVDK. 

89 Dr. J. G. Vaihinger. Eccles., Stuttgard, 1858; Stud. u. Krit., 1848, H. II. 5 
Real Encyc, Herzog, xii. 92, art. Eccles. 

90 Dr. Heinrich F. A. von Ewald, prof. Tubingen. Die Dichter des alt. Bund., 
iv., Gottingen, 1837. "Und als brache die kapper (welche frucht bekanntlich 
plozlich aus ihrer kapsel hervorspringt, die hiille durchbrechend, also wie das 
vorige bild der auflosung), etc. 

91 Cited in the " Variorum " Edition of the Bible, Driver, Cheyne, etc. 

92 Dr. Georg B. Winer, prof. Leipzig. Bib. Realworter., Caper. 

93 Dr. Ernst F. K. Rosenmiiller, prof. Leipzig. Scholia in V. T., ix. 2, 1 786- 
181 7. Eng. trans., Clark's Bib. Cabinet, xxvii. 107. "The veteran who has 
reached the end of his days is compared to an over-ripe caper-berry." 

94 Dr. A. Heiligstedt, Eccles. (Maurer, Com. gram, crit., iv. 2), Leipzig, 1848. 
96 Dr. Friedrich W. C. Umbreit, prof. Heidelberg, Koheleth, 1818; Stud. u. 

Krit., 1857, H. I. 

96 Dr. Er. Elster, prof. Gottingen. Eccles., Giessen, 1855. 

97 Dr. Olaus Celsius. Hierobotanicon, i. 210. Upsal, 1745, 1747. 

98 J. F. Royle, M.D. Kitto, Cyc. Bib. Lit., and McClin. Str. Bib. Theo. Eccl, 
Cyc, art Caper. 


hanging down of the old man's head. Valesius " thinks that the true 
rendering is, "and the caper-bush " (which often grows on tombs) 
" shall be broken away," so that the tomb can be opened to receive 
the old man. 

(3) There is no evidence that the Hebrew word variously rendered 
" desire " and " caper-berry," has the latter meaning at all. 

It is universally agreed that this word, which occurs only in this 
place, is derived from a verb meaning to desire, and therefore that its 
primary meaning is, desire. But it is contended by some that it has 
for its secondary meaning, the caper, as producing desire. The claim 
rests chiefly on the fact that in the Talmud a plural form closely 
resembling what the plural of this word would be is often used with 
the meaning of " caper-berries." But the word found in the Talmud 
is applied to all small tree-fruits, as well as to caper-berries, as we 
have seen. 100 In fact, it is a general word, and is nowhere applied to 
caper-berries, except when there is something else to indicate what 
kind of berries are spoken of. There are, besides this word, not 
fewer than three distinct words 101 which are exclusively appropriated 
to caper-berries. And finally, the word found in the Talmud has 
entirely different vowel points from those which would belong to the 
plural of the word in this passage, 102 showing that the Masorites 
regarded it as a different word. The Jews who produced the Septua- 
gint were the first to recognize a reference to the caper-berry. Other 
versions and scholars simply followed in their track. But those trans- 
lators were better acquainted with the later Hebrew of the Talmuds 
than with the ancient Hebrew of the Old Testament, and were often 
led astray by it. 

In view of all this, the primary meaning " desire " has been retained 
in the ancient Chaldaic version, 103 in the Veneta version, 104 in Luther's 
version, 105 and in our own Authorized version, in the Hebrew lexicons 
of Ibn Ganach, 106 Parchon, 107 Rashi, 108 the two Buxtorfs, 109 Davidson, 110 

99 Henry Valesius (de Valois). Sacr. Philos., p. 514. 

100 See notes 55, 56, and text. i" 1 «| l 7!f, H3SJ, and D"lflp. 

102 The word here is nJl'3X : the singular of the word in the Talmud would 
be nJl''?K. ids Gesen., Thesaur., ad verb. 7\1V3f.. 

104 " iipe£«." A Greek version of the xiv. Cent., in the library of St. Mark's, 
Venice. 105 " Und alle Lust vergehet." 

106 Ibn Ganach, or Djanah Jonah, better known by his Arabic name, Abulwalid 
Mervvan. A Span. Jewish lexicographer, Cordova and Saragossa, 995-1050. 
Cited by Fiirst, Lex. Heb. Chal., ad verb. 

107 Salomon Parchon, a Span. Jewish lexicographer, fl. cir. 1020, in Aragon. 
Cited by Furst, id. 


and Davies, ul and in the translations, commentaries, or other writings 
of Tigurinus, 112 Pagninus, 113 Minister, 114 Piscator, 115 Arias Montanus, 116 
Castalion, 117 Junius and Tremellius, 118 Mercier, 119 Grotius, 120 Drusius, 121 
Vatable, 122 Geier, 123 Witsius, 124 Clericus, 125 Knobel, 126 Hengstenberg, 127 
and Tayler Lewis. 128 

A few scholars have proposed other interpretations, which do not 
call for special notice; namely, Symmachus, 129 Jerome, 130 Chajug, 131 

108 Rabbi Solomon Isaaki, a French Jewish lexicographer, b. at Troyes, 1040. 

109 John Buxtorf, St., prof. Basle. Lex. Heb. et Chal., Basle, 1607: also Epi- 
tome Radicum Heb. et Chal., Basle, 1607. John Buxtorf, Jr., edited his father's 

110 Analytical Heb. and Chal. Lex. B. Davidson. Bagster & Sons, London. 

111 Dr. Benjamin Davies. Hebrew and Chal. Lex. Amer. edi., Warren F. 
Draper, Andover, 1883. 

1 12 Leo J. Tigurinus, xvi. Cent. Trans. O. and N. Test. (Lat.). 

118 Sanctes Pagninus, a Dominican monk, b. Lucca, It., 1466. "V. et N. Test, 
nova trans." (Latin), 1528. 

114 Sebastian Miinster, a Franciscan monk; became Prot.; b. Ingelheim, Pala- 
tinate, 1489; prof. Heidelberg and Basle. Nova Transla. (Latin). 

115 Johannes Piscator (Fischer), b. Strasburg, 1546; prof. Strasburg and 
Heidelberg. Transla. (German). 

116 Arias Montanus, a Span, priest and orientalist; b. Estremadura, 1527; 
compiler of the Polyglot Bible, Antwerp, 15 71. 

117 Sebastian Castalion, b. Dauphini, Fr., 15 15; prof. Geneva and Basle. 
Transla. (Latin). 

118 Franciscus Junius (Francois Du Jon), b. Bourges, 1545; prof. Heidelberg; 
and Emmanuel Tremellius, b. Ferrara, 1510; prof. Heidelberg and Sedan. 
Transla. (Latin), 1579. 

119 Jean Mercier, b. Uzes, France, beg. xvi. Cent.; prof. Royal Coll. France. 

120 Hugo Grotius (De Groot), b. Delft, Holland, 1583. " Annotations," London, 

121 Johannes Drusius (Jan Driesche), b. Oudenarde, Flanders, 1550: prof. 
Leyden and Franeker. Eccles., Frankf., 1600. 

122 Francois Vatable, b. Picardy, France, close xv. cent. ; prof. Royal Coll. 

123 Dr. Martin Geier, b. Leipzig, 1614; prof. Leipzig. Eccles. 

124 Dr. Herman Witsius (Wits), b. 1636; prof. Franeker and Utrecht. 

125 Jean Clericus (Le Clerc), b. Geneva, 1657; prof. Amsterdam. 

126 Dr. Karl A. Knobel, prof. Breslau. Koheleth. 

m Dr. Ernst W. Hongstenberg, prof. Berlin. Eccles., Berlin, 1853. " Die 
Erklar. von der Kapper wird, so verbreitet sie ist, doch als eine grundlose bezeich- 
net werden miissen." 

128 Dr. Tayler Lewis, prof. Union Coll., Schenectady, N. Y. Editor of Zockler's 
Eccles., in Lange's Com. 

129 An Ebionite Christian Jew of ii. Cent, translated the Bible into Greek. " f\ 
Mnovos, scil. £<oi\," 


Kimchi, 132 Aben-Esra, 133 Adonim, 134 Schmidt, 135 Doderlein, 136 and 
Hahn. 137 

Of the seventy-seven authorities examined in this paper, twenty- 
five favor the rendering " and the caper-berry shall fail," and fifty-two 
reject it. The twenty-five are principally modern scholars who have 
unquestioningly followed Gesenius and Ftirst in relying upon three or 
four inapposite quotations. The fifty-two include all the great ver- 
sions, except the two latest, all the great Jewish scholars of the 
Middle Ages, all the Hebraists of the post- Reformation period, and 
such modern scholars, among others, as Ewald, Rosenmiiller, Celsius, 
Knobel, Hengstenberg, Davies, and Tayler Lewis. 

180 « Insight." riJV3-nr3, according to Jerome and Aben-Esra, cited by 
Fiirst, Lex. Heb. et. Chal., ad verb. 

131 Jehuda Ben David Chajug, b. Fez, Africa, about 1030; the greatest of 
Hebrew grammarians; a Moorish Jew. Same rendering, cited by Fiirst, Concord., 
adverb. njV3K. 

182 David Kimchi, a Jewish scholar, b. Narbonne, France, 1160. Rendering, 
"mem. viril." 

188 Abraham Ben Meir, commonly called Aben-Esra, a Span. Jew, b. Toledo, 
1092. See note 130. 

184 Adonim Ben Tamim ha Mizrahi, according to whom njVUK is the fem. of 
JV3S, " the poor one," that is, the soul, " bursts forth " from its prison. So Hahn. 

185 J. C. Ch. Schmidt. Eccles., Giessen, 1794. "The turtle-dove," the messen- 
ger of spring, " is despised." So Doderlein. 

136 J. Ch. Doderlein. Eccles., Jena, 1784. Same as last. 

187 H. A. Hahn. Eccles., Leipzig, i860. Same as Adonim, note 134.